Why the Higher Education Act Matters!

By Malika Ghafour

The Higher Education Act (HEA) was signed into law on November 8, 1965. The initial purpose was to provide financial support for students coming from low-income backgrounds, but what a lot of folks don’t know is that the HEA also provides a platform for students to be involved in their country’s political activities.

The HEA requires school administration’s to: “make a good  faith  effort  to  distribute a mail voter registration from[sic], requested and received from the State to each student enrolled in a degree or certificate program and physically in attendance at the institution, and to make such forms widely available to students at the institution.”

This means that institutions under the HEA are required to make voting accessible and easy for students. This can be hugely impactful if schools follow through. This election cycle, for the first time ever, millennials are the largest voting block. Young people have the ability to elevate issues we care about and elect candidates who share our values.

The HEA plays an important role in encouraging students to be involved in civic engagement. It has been “almost 20 years” since schools started offering voting registration to their students and it’s all happening because of the HEA.  Through HEA many universities participated in projects on campuses that help communities be involved in the political activism. These projects, often led by student organizations, help combat student voter suppression and spread important voting information through email blasts, websites and events. Examples of campuses following the HEA include Dorm Storms, and Voterpalooza’s in which students are registered to vote in fun atmospheres. Northwestern is a great example of colleges doing it right. Each year they pledge to register the entire freshmen orientation. And they succeed – over 90% of freshmen are basically registered at the end of freshmen orientation.

But your university isn’t necessarily going to do anything unless students like you demand it. Meet with your school administration and ask for a polling place on campus, or free transportation to and from the polls. Make sure that your school is providing registration forms and correct voter ID information. There are tons of ways to be in involved in the election this year – leveraging the HEA and ensuring that your school is doing everything they can to ensure that voting is both accessible and encouraged is one way to make 2016 the year of the Millennial.

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